Archive for March, 2012
You have arrived at that part of the story where you will understand why this is my first entry, and with it Note to self #12: If you feel sick, don’t hesitate in going to the doctor. During the first week of classes my throat started hurting, but since it got better after a few days I ignored it, thinking that it was just another normal throat infection. In reality, I wasn’t that far from the truth, it was a normal throat infection, only I didn’t take into consideration the fact that I’m in another country, and thus there are many different types of bacteria to which I am not used. Also, the change in diet affects your immune system, and depending on the person it might make it healthier or not. In my case, it was the latter:
On a Tuesday I make an appointment to visit the Ear, Nose and Throat doctor. On Wednesday, I visit the doctor and he tells me I have a normal throat infection (emphasis on normal) and that if I didn’t feel better within a few days then I should get antibiotics. Thursday I wake up with a huge ball on my neck, crying in pain, and unable to get up or do anything. I called the Palazzo and we made another appointment to see another doctor that same day. The second doctor starts me on antibiotics, and tells me to keep taking painkillers for the neck pain. Friday, I am completely under the influence of painkillers, which are the only thing that help me get through the day. Saturday and Sunday I kept getting better, the throat infection was gone but that ball on my neck wouldn’t go down. And here is when it gets interesting. Monday, I go back to the doctor because I don’t think that ball on my neck is normal, and how right I was. The doctor referred me to another doctor, a surgeon, and said I had to go immediately. He gets me into a cab and away I go. I get to the other doctor’s office and the first thing he says to me is: “Do you have everything you need to go to the hospital?” I felt my pupils dilate and my head spinning in circles. Hospital? What? Apparently I did have a normal throat infection that had spiraled out of control. The antibiotics dealt with the infection, but since that gland was already too big, the antibiotics had no effect on it and it kept growing. This is the next thing he said to me: “Yes, you have to have surgery to have that gland drained because we’re running the risk that the pus inside the gland starts spreading through your body, and the next places it might go are either your heart, your lungs, or your brain.” At this point I’m severely confused, not scared yet. There was no time to register what was going on. Long story short, by 9pm that night I was in a hospital bed with an IV in my arm, waiting to see if the inflammation would go down so I wouldn’t need to get surgery. Thankfully my awesome roommates responded very well, and one of them spent the night with me.
You’re probably dying to know what happened next, and you’re probably guessing right. Wednesday at 5pm I was put under general anesthesia so that a German and an Italian doctor could drain a gland in my neck. After the surgery I called my parents to tell them everything was ok. Thursday my parents tell me that my mom was going to come to Rome to take care of me. Friday, the AAP in Rome program headed to Napoli for the second field trip of the semester. They managed to leave before the first snowstorm in 25 years hit the city, which left the city in complete chaos. The roads were impossible to navigate, everything was full of snow. Sunday, my mom made it to Rome, and Monday I was let go. Everything was going back to normal at last. For about a week after, I had to visit the doctor everyday so he could drain the gland and clean the wound but at least I could go back to class and start having a normal life again. Intense right? Note to self #13: Never panic, make sure you keep your parents posted, and listen to your doctor, and remember, never panic. I had the luck that all of my doctors and nurses were great and on top of things all the time. If you ever need a doctor, ask Anna Rita or Pam, they were the ones who recommended these doctors.
After the whole hospital incident things have been running a lot more smoothly. The next time you read me you’ll read about our Tuscany field trip. So stay tuned!
During the first few weeks in Rome most students take Italian language classes, either the two-week intensive course or the semester-long beginner’s course. Since I’ve studied Italian since Freshman year, I did not need to take Italian here, which was nice since it gave me the opportunity to take other classes. Note to self #10: Try taking at least a semester of Italian before coming to Rome, especially if you are spending an entire semester here. Knowing the basics of Italian opens a lot of doors, and it gives you a sense of confidence when walking around the city and exploring. It definitely makes it easier to get around and meet people, which is very important, since this trip is not only about spending a semester in Rome, but also about meeting actual Italians. Tim Cahill once said “A journey is best measured by the number of friends made rather than miles.” That should be your motto for your journeys, especially this one. Italian culture is all about community. People focus more on enjoying their company and having a good time with friends and family than anything else. Be sure to experience this.
The weekend before classes started there was a very nice reception at the Palazzo so that we would all get acquainted with each other, and formally welcome everyone to Rome. The orientation field trip was on Saturday, January 20th. Professor Blanchard gave us a brief introduction to the city and then the walking part of the tour started. We saw some of the most important monuments in the city, including Vittorio Emmanuele II, Piazza Venezia, the Roman Forum, the Colosseo, the Capitoline, and many, many more. After the walking tour we got on our bus, went out to the outskirts of the city to a place called Fosse Ardeatine. The Fosse are where the Massacro delle Cave Ardeatine took place. In 1944, a group of the Italian Resistance killed 33 Nazi soldiers in one of their expressions. A furious Hitler ordered that 10 people be killed for each Nazi soldier that died during the protest. Nazi soldiers went down the streets grabbing men from all social classes, ages, and religion and took them to these caves where they were all shot dead. They then proceeded to blow up the place to conceal what they did, which is why in some places you can see the sky above while standing inside the cave. Today you can visit the caves and the tombs that are on the site. 333 people were identified out of the 335 that were killed, and there is a tomb for each, even for those who were not identified. The day concluded at the Spanish steps, after which everyone went their own ways.
After the first two weeks of Italian everyone was ready for classes to start. Students loved traveling around Rome but it was time to have some structure in their lives and to start exploring the city with a more critical eye. As far as I’m concerned everyone loves their classes. For most, it was difficult to choose which classes to take since a lot of them seemed very interesting. It was a process of deciding whether they would focus on completing their majors or traveling around Rome, Italy, and Europe. They discovered that by choosing to take the classes they really want to take they are experiencing Rome in the way they want to experience it. It was a matter of understanding that our professors wanted to explore Rome just as much as we do, so they were going to incorporate as much walking around as possible. Hence our Note to self #11: Take the classes you really want to take, and that you think might introduce you to many more perspectives of Italian culture, since that is the reason why you are here, to experience Italy from Rome.
The first thing that the students had to do when they got here was to go straight to Palazzo Lazzaroni to check in and get their apartment keys. The palazzo is beautiful! It was built in the 17th century, and you can still see some of the original paintings on the ceilings. It is on Via dei Barbieri, off of Largo Argentina, a main road, which is a transportation hub that has a tram stop, bus stop, and taxi stop. It is very well located in the center of the city or centro storico. Since my roman apartment is right by the palazzo I walked there instead of taking another taxi. The apartment was so charming! Small but cozy and very homey. It is always great to move to a completely new and different place and find out that your apartment is really nice and well located. It makes it a lot easier to get used to a new place when you know you are always going back to a nice place at the end of the day where you can relax and spend time with people you like.
Note to self #5: Try to sleep as much as you can on the plane; and once you get to Rome, follow the Italian schedule at once. Do not take a nap, just go to bed at a normal time and wake up early in the morning. Being jet-lagged is not fun. Even though most students, if not all of them get to their apartments and are completely exhausted, the excitement of being in a city like Rome gives you a boost of energy that is disconcerting to those around you who have not had the same experience. Thus, that first week that the students spend in Rome is one of intense exploration. At first, they all thought they were never getting to understand the city because of its crazy street system, and to be honest, the trick is to get lost by yourself once. It is amazing how much you learn by not knowing where you are or in which direction you’re going. This might seem daunting to many, but the reality is completely different. In a place like Rome, there is no place you can go that is not interesting and beautiful in its own way, especially at the city center. Hence, this experience is not only important so that you understand and find your way around, but it is also a way of learning about the city and seeing things that you wouldn’t normally see. You start developing a sense of what you would like to see again or experience once more. Also, you immerse yourself in this collage of history that you had only seem from a car, and are blown away by how different the layers are to one another but how perfectly they work together to create a visual experience that you can only live in Rome. Note to self #6: Get lost as soon as possible, and take a notebook with you so you can write down places to re-visit and their addresses.
During this period of intense exploration you do not only learn about the landscape and the architecture, but also about the culture, and to be honest, not all lessons are learned easily. Some of them are pretty uncomfortable to learn, but this is all part of the experience. Let me tell you another story so that you understand what I mean. This one is Note to self #7: Never judge a restaurant by its facade but by its menu. On my first night here, my friends decided that since they had been here for a while, that I should choose where to eat for dinner. Italian food has a reputation for being amazing. I chose this little restaurant near Piazza Navona that looked very nice, and that was affordable for us students. Our first clue that something really wrong was going to happen that night was that as an appetizer, the waitress brought us a bowl of Pringles. All six of us stared at if for a few minutes until one of us asked if we were all thinking the same thing. There were eight Pringles in the bowl, so it was not like they brought us a bowl of Pringles to eat while talking, we each had one Pringle and that was it. We looked around to see if anyone else had Pringles on their table but we were the only ones. It was bizarre. Since we had already ordered our food we decided to stay, but the atmosphere was changed completely, and tension was high. The waitress brought us our food a little later along with a bag of bread. The food was good, not the most amazing dinner we’ve ever had, but good. Maybe it wasn’t as good as it could’ve been because of the Pringle incident, but nevertheless good. The bread was delicious, so we decided to order another bag. We finished our dinner and we were in much better moods, until we got the check. Note to self #8: If you feel like you must get out, do it. The price you’ll pay for staying will be a lot higher… literally. They were charging us 14 euro for the bread. 14 euro! None of our dinners were even close to that! At this point no one was even trying to pretend that everything was fine: eyes where the size of quarters, heart rates were through the roof, hairdos were coming undone… things were getting out of control. After a heated discussion, where emotions were all over the place, I went up to the waitress to talk to her since I was the only one who spoke some Italian. I saw the manager and decided to go straight to him instead, and I explained our situation and that we were never told that we had to pay for bread. The waitress just brought it without us asking for it, at least the first bag. The manager looked at the waitress in a very judgmental way; clearly she had played with us. He agreed to not charge us for the first bag but that we would have to pay for the second one, and to be honest at this point we just wanted to go home and relax after an unexpectedly stressing evening. So, we paid for everything and left. It is safe to say that we’re never going back there again.
Don’t be afraid though, not all of Rome is like that. I have seen more acts of kindness here than anywhere else. Once, an old man was crossing an avenue when his grocery bag ripped and all of his stuff fell on the ground. It was pouring rain and the light changed so there were cars honking their horns because he couldn’t move. A lady that was standing on the sidewalk jumped into the street to help him get his things. Then a man who was on his bike waiting for the light to change, gave him a plastic bag that he happened to have in which he could put his belongings. This is a perfect example of Roman generosity and community values. It was a beautiful thing to see and experience. Thus, Note to self #9: There are beautiful people everywhere, and they are the majority of the population.
I’m sure you have already read about the beginning of the adventures of the AAP-in-Rome-Spring-2012-crew in the magnificent città di Roma, and although this post might seem like it’s being posted later than it should have been, no worries, you will understand soon enough why it has been posted just now.
Hopefully you noticed the title of the blog entry. In a way, it summarizes very well what has been happening to, with, on, inside, and around the students; as well as give you an idea of what the entries to come will be like. Each of my stories will have a moral or a lesson. Write them down, because they’re meant to help you if you ever come to Rome yourself. Not that you shouldn’t have your own interesting experiences, but just keep these things in mind. You can do a “Notes to self” journal, name it “An Informal Visitor’s Guide to Success in the Magnificent City of Rome” and bring it with you on your travels. And now on to the stories…
The students all arrived to Rome with different ideas of what their experience and the city were going to be like. We can all agree that the first culture shock experience has to do with Italy’s driving culture; especially the crazy driving of taxi drivers! Note to self #1: Research beforehand in Google Maps or Google Earth how to get around the city, especially the route from the airport to your apartment. I did some research before arriving about taxi culture in Rome and how I could get from the airport to Palazzo Lazzaroni, Cornell’s Palazzo, so that I wouldn’t be surprised or confused when I got here. It didn’t work. One of the things I read was that as you walk out of the airport there will be people trying to get you into their taxis by taking your luggage or sometimes even pulling you by the arm, but that you should ignore them and be firm in expressing your desire of taking the white taxi with the Roma logo on the side. I was definitely not prepared for this. Note to self #2: It is not about just doing the research; it’s about actually doing what the research tells you. Beware! The people who ask you if you need a taxi are the ones you should ignore. Not because they’re not honest people, I’m sure most of them if not all of them are; but because if you’re a stranger in a city, who barely speaks the language, you should be very cautious and at least manage to get to your new home the first day. (Just try to reach home at least the first day. You can experiment later when you have a better understanding of the city.) Back to the story, after a ten minute heated argument with the taxi driver, I decided to just get in the car and get home. Word of advice: check Google maps before traveling. The one thing that kept me calm and gave me an extra sense of security on my way home, was that I had memorized the way from the airport to the palazzo beforehand, so I knew where the taxi driver was taking me. I’m not saying that you should know how to get there yourself; I know this was a little bit extreme on my part, but at least have a general idea of where you’re going. You can never be too safe, especially when it’s your first time traveling by yourself to a different country on a continent halfway around the world where they don’t speak your language. Note to self #3: Learn basic sentences and expressions in Italian before arriving here, it makes it easier to get around. As you can imagine, I made it home safe. I realize now I was a tad paranoid but it all worked out, I’m ready for my next taxi adventure.
The next thing we all noticed was how beautiful the city is: which definitely made it easier to stay calm on my way to the palazzo. I was mesmerized by the landscape. You can see the different layers of history piled on top of each other around the city, giving it the feel of a 3-D collage that is thousands of years old. This becomes more apparent as we study the city in greater detail but we’ll talk about academics later. For now, it’s just about first impressions. On my way to the palazzo I kept asking my taxi driver what the different and most impressive buildings were; at one point I saw this huge wall on my left and asked him what it was, he said “That is Vatican City”. I was stunned! I was definitely not expecting the Vatican to be right there, by a main road on my way home. It made me realize that Rome is not one of those places where you have to go out of your way to see important sights, everything is here in the same place, as if it were a city-size museum, which in a way it is. Note to self #4: Even if you’re bringing your nice big camera, make sure you bring a smaller one to have with you at all times. Sometimes the nice big cameras are very inconvenient and hard to carry around. The difference in the foliage was very interesting as well. Here in Italy, there are Stone Pines or Umbrella Pines everywhere! They are so beautiful! They were, and still are, used to mark pathways, and seem to be the most common type of tree in Rome. The pines are especially beautiful at night since the green light projected from their base makes them look a little bit cartoonish and unreal. It’s almost as if they were man made decorations rather that actual nature.